After 20 years, Hashimpura survivors find hope in RTI Act
by Bobby Ramakant
Even twenty years after the sordid Hashimpura massacre in Uttar Pradesh, in which Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel allegedly gunned down over 40 people on 22 May 1987 (all muslim), justice remains still out of sight.
On 24 May 2007, two survivors and many members of 36 families of those killed on the fateful day of Hashimpura bloodbath came to Lucknow â€“ UP's state capital – to file 615 applications under The Right to Information Act 2005, at the office of Director General of Police demanding critical information pertinent to the case.
The Right to Information Act which came into force on 12 October 2005, empowers every citizen with the right to inspect works, documents, records, take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, and obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts in largely all government agencies across the country (except J&K).
The Hashimpura massacre occurred during the communal riots that broke out in Meerut in May 1987. Apparently, the immediate provocation was the Rajiv Gandhi-led Central government's decision to open the Babri Masjid for worship by Hindus. Curfew was imposed and PAC personnel conducted a search-and-arrest-operation in several Muslim localities in the city. On 22 May 1987, they booked hundreds of Muslim youth from Hashimpura, though there was no rioting in that area of Meerut city. Also there were hindu localities in Hashimpura as well, which weren't affected by PAC's operations.
About 50 of them, all muslim and mostly daily wage labourers and poor weavers, were taken by PAC in a truck from Hashimpura Mohalla in Meerut to the Upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad, instead of taking them to the police station. They then shot some of them, one by one, and threw them into the canal.
RTI Act gave a beacon of hope to people impacted by Hashimpura massacre who have been relentlessly striving for justice since past 20 years. The triad of police, administration and judicial system made all efforts to delay or even expunge the case in some instance. After 20 long gaping years, out of 164 witnesses, only 3 prime witnesses have given statements so far in the court. How many decades more do the courts need to bring to books those who were responsible for this gory and shameful mass killing of innocent people?
They are asking the State to tell them why these PAC accused have not been suspended from service while being prosecuted for custodial murders? What departmental proceedings and disciplinary action, if any, were initiated against them? Why was there a delay of almost a decade in even charge sheeting the PAC accused? Why were most of those indicted by the CB CID Report let off the hook? They are asking for the CBCID Inquiry Report into the PAC killings to be made public.
Zulfikar Nasser, one of the survivors of Hashimpura Massacre, narrated the blood-curdling experience of seeing two persons being shot and thrown into the canal. "I was the third in line. I was pulled out of the truck and as I fell down, I was shot," he said. The bullet hit him in the underarm. He feigned death by holding his breath. The PAC personnel threw him into the canal, said Nasser. He escaped, concealing himself in bushes. He heard relentless cries for help and sounds of bullet shots. "I could hear thuds after the bodies of 15 or 16 persons were thrown into water."
Another survivor Mohamed Naem, who was of 17 years then in 1987, said that when few people were dragged out of the truck by PAC, shot mercilessly and thrown in the canal, out of utter desperation and hopelessness, they attacked the PAC personnel within the truck. PAC fired aimlessly injuring many. One of them was 22 years old Quamruddin, who got shot in the abdomen and fell upon Mohamed Naem who was 17 years then. Later when Naem was pulled out of the truck, he was thrown into the canal mistaken for being dead. He survived and clung onto the shrubs near by and witnessed the mindless fenzy.
In 1988, the State government ordered an inquiry by the Crime Branch – Central Investigation Department (CB-CID). The CB-CID 's report, submitted to the State government in 1994, was never made public. In 1995, some of the victims moved the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court to make the report public and to prosecute those indicted in it.
The CB-CID filed the charge-sheet only against 19 of the PAC personnel although 66 PAC personnel were indicted by it earlier.
Between the years 1997-2000 the court issued 23 warrants summoning the accused policemen but none appeared.
Finally, 13 years after the massacre, 16 of the 19 accused surrendered in groups in May 2000. Although their bail applications were initially rejected by the CJM, the accused managed to obtain bail from the court of the District Judge, Ghaziabad.
In 2001, the victims filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for the case to be transferred from Ghaziabad to New Delhi as the conditions there would be more conducive to the trial. The Supreme Court transferred the case to Tis Hazari in New Delhi. In November 2004, the government appointed Surinder Adlakha as Special Public Prosecutor.
After 19 years of the Hashimpura massacre, finally in May 2006, the Court framed charges against all the accused PAC men for murder, conspiracy to murder, attempt to murder, tampering with evidence etc under Sections 302/ 120B/ 307/ 201/ 149/ 364/ 148/ 147 Indian Penal Code.
Maulana Mohammad Yamin, the President of Hashimpura Legal Advisory Committee, said that "This case is about the first instance in which those who were appointed to keep the peace carried out attacks in cold blood."
The 18 rifles used by PAC jawans to allegedly mow down over 40 muslims of Hashimpura in 1987 were redistributed among the personnel of the force. The shifting of the case property – vital evidence – from the custody of the investigating agency has put a question mark on the judiciary. Legal experts are calling it a "destruction of evidence" on the part of the investigating agency.
The Hashimpura massacre proves how difficult it is to prosecute police personnel accused of communal crimes. According to Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was then Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad when Hashimpura massacre took place, and is a senior police official in UP today, most of the police personnel posted in Meerut thought the riots were a result of Muslim mischief. They believed that Meerut had become a "mini-Pakistan" because of "Muslim intransigence" and that it was necessary to teach the community a lesson. This bias is only exacerbated by the State's reluctance to prosecute police personnel as seen in the Hashimpura trial.
The fight against communalisation requires drastic changes in the policy of recruitment, training and syllabi of the police. The percentage of minorities, especially Muslims, is only 5 to 6 per cent in most States. Massacres like those of Hashimpura, are a result of a deep and inherent communal bias in the leadership of the police. Unless we reserve some seats for minorities, this bias may never go.
It is the courage and spirit of the people to strive for the truth and justice that can put a stop to the mindless fake encounters, custodial deaths and communal killings, which pose a grave threat to Indian democracy and human rights.
Photos of Hashimpura victims going to file RTI applications, photos by Nasiruddin Haider Khan: